5 ways to show your library some love (and stop it becoming a store cupboard)

Published on: 17 February 2022

A boy lying down to read in a school libraryA boy lying down to read in a school library

You’ve planned to take your class to the library. As you enter, Jamie trips over an abandoned box, Ruby moves aside the science resources to reach the poetry books and Kiara and Ezra start to clear the paper and pens from the beanbags so they can settle down to read.

Sound familiar?

In our busy schools, with limited time and space, the library can sometimes unintentionally become an unloved place. A dumping ground. And it’s not your mess, so not your place to tidy it... right?

How can we maximise the use of the library and keep it a vibrant, useable space, without impacting on teacher’s precious time?

5 common library mistakes

1.  Other resources and school equipment are stored in the library.

The challenges of a lack of space in schools can mean that the library becomes a storage room.

2. Children are banned from entering the library unless in an allotted time slot.

Although this may seem like a measure to prevent ‘mess creation,’ it does not reflect the reading for pleasure culture we want to nurture in our schools.

3. Classes can’t freely access the library as it is used for interventions and meetings.

Children and teachers need to know that the library is available for them to explore and use for reference during the day, thus ensuring that it is a purposeful space and that pupils see its relevance to their learning.

4. Children are required to ‘be silent’ in the library.

This outdated concept from public library stereotypes of the past can fall into the ‘tidy library’ category, silence being seen to create an ‘appropriate’ library environment. However, this is far from true. Book talk is key to reading for pleasure and the library should have a healthy buzz of bookish chat.

5. The library is used as a ‘exclusion space’ for pupils who need a time out from the classroom.

This can unconsciously (or explicitly) link the library and books with punishment or shame, undoing the incredible benefits the library has for mental health and wellbeing. 

A boy reading in a school libraryA boy reading in a school library

So, what are the solutions?

1. De-clutter the library.

What can be thrown out? What needs to be stored elsewhere? If it is essential the library does house other resources, these need to be in closed boxes, if possible on shelves and not impacting on access to the books or seating areas.

2. Creative timetabling.

Ensure all classes are allocated and use their time in the library. Then if there are free slots, intervention groups using the space could be planned around these. The more classes use the library and learn to leave it loved, cared for and tidy for the next group, the more they feel ownership of the space. And… with a timetable, if it is left in a mess you know who needs to be responsible for tidying it!

3. Train children as librarians and library monitors.

Children love nothing more than being given responsibility. Give library monitors lunchtime duties to ensure that the library is kept tidy and inviting, which has the added benefit of ensuring the library is open so other children are able to access the library at playtimes.

4. Encourage book talk.

Book talk boxes, probing questions dotted around the space, recommendation walls or discussion starters all promote positive library chatter. If you are worried about the noise level rising too high, use a voice-o-meter to support purposeful, inside talk. Creating a ‘quiet corner’ space can also ensure children respect those who do wish to read quietly. Knowing the library is a relaxing and supportive space ensures that children leave it loved.

5. Use the library space for restorative behaviour practices only.

When a child is ready, they could be signposted to books that may help support their wellbeing or that they can use as tools to support their individual needs.

Love your Library!

Bottom line, the library needs to be loved to reflect the positive reading for pleasure ethos in your school. By creating a cherished, cared-for space, the library can be the heart of the school – a place offering the magical key to success for our pupils and allowing Jamie, Ruby, Kiara, Ezra and all their peers to thrive.

Read more about our Life-changing Libraries campaign

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